Think sweet treats make you feel better? ‘Comfort foods’ could be adding to your misery
We’re programmed to reach for certain foods when we’re feeling low, and usually these foods are based on sugar or carbs.
A recent survey by Tilda rice (tilda.com) found that seven out of 10 women, and half of men, indulge in cakes, sweets and chocolates when they’re stressed or looking for a mood boost. And even when you’re not looking for it, you’ll probably still get it – 12% of women said they buy their friends or colleagues sugary foods when it seems like they’re a bit down.
The trouble is, these sugary delights will not bring your mood up. Quite the opposite, in fact, and experts say our reliance on sweet treats as a pick-me-up actually means we’re “eating our way to sadness”.
Basically, this is all because of spiking blood sugar levels. “After eating sugary foods or refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels can rise rapidly which may cause feelings of stress and anxiety,” explains clinical dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker, “only to crash soon after, which can then leave you feeling lethargic or in low spirits.
“We need to replace the short-lived highs we get from refined sugar and processed fat with healthier options and new long-term shopping and eating habits,” she adds. ”It’s shocking to see wholesome eating habits go out the window when we face a challenge in the day, or a lull in a routine. This is when healthy eating is most important.”
With this in mind, Schenker is working with Tilda and food psychologist Dr Christy Fergusson to launch a new ‘Eat Your Way to Happiness’ campaign, to help more of us make better food choices when we’re looking for a boost during a bad day.
So if biscuits and ice cream are out, what should we be reaching for?
TOP THREE HEALTHY COMFORT FOODS
“Your thyroid plays a key role in your mood,” explains Fergusson. “However, to work properly it relies on selenium.”
Dr Schenker adds: “Brazil nuts are the richest source of the mineral selenium, containing 10 times more than the next richest source. Selenium-rich food helps to combat depression, and studies have shown that eating a small handful of Brazil nuts everyday can help to improve mood.”
They suggest incorporating them into your daily diet by having a small handful of Brazil nuts between meals, or chopping and sprinkling them into yoghurt with grated dark chocolate.
“Wholegrain basmati is a great addition to the diet,” says Dr Schenker. “It’s a low-GI food so it contains the type of carbohydrate that releases energy slowly, keeping your blood sugar levels steady and maintaining a more balanced, calm mood. “
“Stacked up against other types of rice, wholegrain basmati is top of the list,” adds Fergusson, who advises upping your intake by serving wholegrain basmati rice with curries, stews, casseroles, tagines and use in pilafs and kedgerees.
Frequently lauded as a superfood, it’s no real wonder broccoli makes you happy as well as healthy. Dr Schenker explains why: “To make the feel-good chemical serotonin, your body needs a healthy supply of B vitamins, including fabulous folate. When our B vitamins are in short supply, we can’t properly metabolise our neurotransmitters, leaving us low in our mood-boosters serotonin and dopamine, which controls pleasure.”
Luckily, “half a cup of broccoli is all you need for 52mg of folate”, notes Fergusson. “These green leafy vegetables are also amongst the richest sources of B vitamin available, which is also great news for your skin as Vitamin B promotes healthy hair, skin and nails.” They recommend steaming your broccoli, then adding it to omelettes and risottos.
THINGS THAT BRING BACK GOOD MEMORIES
This ‘food’ might be a bit harder to pinpoint, and will depend on each individual, but nutritionist Juliette Kellow believes that when you’re feeling blue, you should eat food that brings back “lovely memories of warm sunny days on holiday as this is a great link to your brain to boost your mood.
“Florida grapefruits are one of my favourite choices – they’re super sweet and juicy because they’re grown in a subtropical climate, and you can make a delicious dessert, sprinkling the cut side of half a grapefruit with a little mixed spice, then brush it with honey and grill until the top is caramelised and golden.”
BEST OF THE REST
Here are some other mood-boosting bites to stock up on:
Chicken and Turkey
To find out more, see the Eat Your Way to Happiness Manual and download a handy seven-day meal planner, visit tilda.com